Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wildlife and Wind Energy

Story and photo by Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator

I strongly believe in renewable energy but also that we need to protect wildlife and their habitats during the development all energy projects. HCPC has been reviewing the Antelope Ridge wind energy project proposed for construction in the foothills of the Grande Ronde Valley of northeast Oregon. Significant wildlife issues have come to light as the project has been reviewed. There is cause for concern.

Since May, 2009, four golden eagles have found dead at the adjacent Elkhorn wind energy site. Golden eagle nests have been found in the vicinity of the proposed Antelope Ridge project area and so the need for strong protections is obvious. Antelope Ridge also contains critical winter range for elk and deer, a potential sage-grouse lek, forested areas, habitat for bats, and it is located adjacent to northeast Oregon's largest remaining wetland, Ladd Marsh.

Below, you can read HCPC's letter that was sent to Oregon Department of Energy
addressing these wildlife concerns. Three other conservation organizations signed-on to HCPC's letter. In this letter, we encourage the Department of Energy to adopt the wildlife recommendations that have been provided by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and the US Fish & Wildlife Service to date as conditions for approval for Antelope Ridge.

Over the past year, I've heard a wide variety of opinions about wind energy. Whatever your views may be, if you care about protecting the wildlife of this area please make your voice heard.

You may submit comments about Antelope Ridge to
Oregon Department of Energy at until 5 PM on February 14. A public meeting will also be held in Union, Oregon on January 25 at the elementary school in Union, OR at 6 to 8:30 PM. Visit the ODE website at for more information about Antelope Ridge.

Here is HCPC's letter:

Hells Canyon Preservation Council

Oregon Natural Desert Association

Audubon Society of Portland

Defenders of Wildlife

December 21, 2010

Ms. Sue Oliver

Oregon Department of Energy

245 Main Street, Suite C

Hermiston, OR 97838

Please accept these comments on behalf of the Hells Canyon Preservation Council , Oregon Natural Desert Association, Audubon Society of Portland, and Defenders of Wildlife regarding the proposed Antelope Ridge Project located in Union County, Oregon. We submit these comments during the preliminary application phase of the review process, and intend to submit additional comments during the public hearing phase.

We recognize the need for domestic energy independence and viable solutions to global climate change. We support responsible permitting and development of renewable energy projects and strongly believe that long-term success of the State’s efforts to develop renewable energy depends on thoroughly evaluating projects and finding ways to minimize environmental impacts. Impacts to wildlife and key habitats, along with methods to reduce and mitigate these impacts, must be fully considered in the decision making processes. In order to create a truly sustainable energy system for Oregon, we support of the recommendations provided by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) and US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued to date during the preliminary application process. We ask that the Oregon Department of Energy fully adopt these recommendations as necessary requirements for approval of Antelope Ridge.

ODFW and USFWS have raised numerous concerns about wildlife including the proximity of active golden eagles nests to the project area, Greater sage-grouse habitat and the location of a potential lek site, big game critical wildlife habitat and winter range within the site area, as well as concerns related to other avian species and bats. These impacts will likely be compounded by the cumulative effects from the adjacent Elkhorn Valley project which has already impacted species such as the Golden Eagle. Adequate mitigation and protection plans are needed to reduce the severity of impacts on avian species and other wildlife, as well as sensitive vegetation such as the Doulas clover and Oregon semaphore grass.

Golden eagles are among our chief concerns. USFWS indicated there have been mortalities at the nearby Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm over the last year and we feel the likelihood of additional mortalities at both the Elkhorn site as well as the proposed Antelope Ridge project site is extremely high. This could pose a significant risk to golden eagle populations in the area. Several active and historic golden eagle nests have been identified within the proposed Antelope Ridge project area as well as in adjacent habitat. USFWS predicts additional eagles will be killed by wind turbines at Antelope Ridge unless a strong golden eagle protection plan is adopted. It is essential that USFWS recommendations for eagle protection are implemented to protect the eagles as well as Swainson’s hawk and burrowing owls identified within the project area.

We are also concerned about impacts to Greater sage-grouse. There is a potential Greater sage-grouse lek near the southern edge of the project. Greater sage-grouse are a species recently identified by the USFWS as warranting an endangered species listing under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) because of widespread declines in sage-grouse populations throughout the West. They have been precluded from a formal listing and the State has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the species.

In addition to our concerns about avian species, we are concerned about impacts to big game habitat such as critical winter range within the project area. This habitat that is vital for mule deer and elk to survive during harsh winter months. In a letter to Horizon from ODFW (see attached letter dated 5-28-10), ODFW cited that mule deer decreased by nearly 400 individuals at the Elkhorn Project site from 2005 to 2009. They felt this strongly indicated the population had decreased in the area after the project was built (indicating avoidance issues by mule deer to the wind turbines). ODFW also said that this information should inform future projects such as the Antelope Ridge Project.

This is an area rich with wildlife and natural heritage we all enjoy as Oregonians. In addition to the species and places we have already discussed, the Antelope Ridge project area is located immediately south of Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, northeast Oregon’s largest remaining wetland and is home to abundant wildlife. Due to the proximity of forest land, shrub steppe and wetlands, the project area supports movements of wildlife and should be seen as important to wildlife connectivity in the area.

Despite the positive benefits of renewable energy, we feel the Antelope Ridge Project can only be truly “green” if it is sited and permitted with the utmost concern for wildlife. We hope that the Oregon Department of Energy will continue its ethic of responsible permitting and follow the counsel of ODFW and USFWS. We feel these agencies have adequately articulated concerns and potential solutions—now, it is the responsibility of the Oregon Department of Energy to comply with fellow agencies.

Thank you for your time and consideration. We hope to continue to be a partner in creating a sustainable energy economy all Oregonians can support.


Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator

Hells Canyon Preservation Council

Liz Nysson, Climate Change Coordinator

Oregon Natural Desert Association

Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director

Audubon Society of Portland

Bruce Taylor, Director of Oregon Biodiversity Program

Defenders of Wildlife

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